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July 12, 2020 Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Green) Genesis 25:19-34; Matthew 13:1-9
Called to Go on a Sanctifying Journey in God’s love
Grudge in Heart
Have you ever held a grudge against someone? Most of us probably have at one time or another. Maybe it was your own siblings when you were a little child. Probably you thought your parents adored them more; or it was your classmate who always got better grades than you; or it was your coworker who got lots of credit that you thought you also deserved.
Whatever it was, did you ever resolve that grudge? Or do you still struggle with it in your heart? The funny thing about a grudge: it is so heavy and painful to carry, but it is completely unaware that it exists. You can even pretend you are just fine with your soul. But if not resolved, this grudge may settle in your mind as a trauma and eventually endanger not only your life but also your family and many others around you.
In Christian terms, there is a saying “born again.” Perhaps this means that we are forgiven or healed or freed from the old infections like holding a grudge, jealousy, hatred, deceit, and much more, so that we can turn around, and begin to live a new life, and form a healthy relationship with people living around us. But if we still harbor resentment or animosity for someone, we will never live a blessed life and bless others’ lives as well. That is why Jesus emphasized the importance of reconciliation.
Here in our Old Testament passage, we see a man who had lived a very dramatic life. He started his life journey with a heart full of jealousy and competition (he only cared about his own success), but at the end of his life, he came to live a life of blessing to all the nations. (As he continued to grow in faith, his life journey can be likened to a journey of sanctification in our Christian term). His name is Jacob and we are familiar with the legacy he left in the OT.
Continue to grow in faith
Jacob and Esau were twin brothers. While growing up, they had developed different personalities. Esau became a skillful hunter outside in the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, staying in tents with his mother. The Bible doesn’t judge which one is better or worse. With regard to their different characters, their parents responded to them in different ways: “Esau would take the meat of wild animals to his father Isaac, and so Isaac loved him more, but Jacob was his mother’s favorite son” (vv. 27-28). Their favoritism was the seed of their twin sons’ tragedy.
Besides, Jacob had an obvious reason to envy his twin brother. That is the birthright. Probably, Jacob had nurtured this jealousy since he knew that Esau, the firstborn, would inherit most of their father’s properties. In today’s passage, Jacob tricked Esau into buying his birthright only with a bowl of stew (vv. 31-33). Later, Rebekah coached Jacob into stealing the blessing that Isaac intended for Esau. Esau vowed to murder his brother for that, and Jacob had to run away (Gen. 27). Since then, the two brothers hadn’t had much contact for more than 20 years.
Jacob ran away to live among his mother Rebekah’s family. There he fell in love with his cousin, Rachel. He offered to work seven years for her father, Laban, in order to marry her. But Laban tricked Jacob into marrying Leah, Rachel’s sister, before he could marry Rachel. Jacob had to work another seven years to have Rachel as his wife. And favoritism showed up again: Jacob “loved Rachel more than Leah” (Gen. 29:30) (his married life was never happy at all). Later it moved to the next generation. Jacob had 12 sons from Leah and Rachel but he loved Rachel’s son “Joseph more than any of his other sons” (Gen. 37:3). That is why the other sons sold Joseph to Egypt as a slave.
Isn’t this a mess? God’s people are supposed to show the great example of compassion. They are called to live for the blessing of others rather than for their own benefit. But what Jacob and his family cared about was how to live a life concerned with their own best interests. For that, they even hurt their own families. The name Jacob actually means “trickster” and he spent his life cheating many others. Indeed, he became richer than his brother at an old age. Was he happy with his success? No, he always lived an unhappy life due to the unresolved infections in his heart (grudge, jealousy, animosity, etc.).
However, we have to know the whole story if we want to know the truth of the story. This is not only Jacob’s story. This is a story about how God disciplines his servant. God intervened in Jacob’s life and he continued to lead and grew to be a man of faith. Wrestling with God on the Jabbok River, Jacob finally got a new name, Israel, and with his new name he moved to a new stage of life (Gen. 32) – from the life of Jacob the trickster, to the life of Israel, the fountain of blessings for all the nations. (In the next three Sundays, we will see how God disciplined Jacob, so that he could finally become a man of God).
Above, I liken Jacob’s life journey to a journey of sanctification in our Christian terms. We tend to believe that if we believe in Jesus, we receive God’s salvation right away. That’s it! But we should remember that Jesus not only gives his believers salvation, but also the commandments. Jesus wants to see how we love each other, how we serve others, how we witness and practice his teachings; and how we bear the fruit of the Spirit in our daily lives. Otherwise, Jesus will say “I don’t know who you are” when we stand again in front of him. It is God’s will for us continue to grow in our faith and live a life of discipleship until we die. In this sense, the true meaning of salvation is the ongoing process of our sanctifying journey throughout our lives.
Christian sanctification is all about loving God and our neighbors. Indeed, we Christians, or God’s people are called to bless all the nations and all the races. In order to bless others, we must see all people as God’s children; we should consider others better than ourselves, so that we can serve them as their friends or their servants; we should be good at forgiving others and even loving and blessing our enemies. This life of blessing (or sanctification) is what Jesus showed us during his public ministry and this is the life he called his disciples to live. By God’s faithfulness
You and I are believers of Jesus Christ. Then, do we go on a journey of sanctification in our faith? In other words, do we love people around us? Do we live a life of blessing others? If we say we love God but despise others or ignore the people in need, we are only hypocrites. If we really love God, we should live a life of loving, serving, and blessing our neighbors.
Of course, we will not be able to reach the point of perfect sanctification throughout our life journey. Sometimes, we might want to live like Jacob who only cared about his own interests. We might have moments when we struggle with the old infections like grudges, animosity, or anger against others. But the truth is, the moment we accept Jesus, the main character of our lives is God, not ourselves. No wonder sanctification is hard. Yet God is always faithful. He will continue to lead us and help us go on our sanctifying journey.